Israel has summoned the Russian ambassador and demanded an apology over remarks by the Kremlin foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, that Adolf Hitler “had Jewish blood” and that the “most rabid antisemites tend to be Jews”.
The remarks were part of Lavrov’s defense of Russia’s policy of “denazification” in Ukrainethe Kremlin’s term for a sweeping purge that Ukraine says is a pretext for “mass murder.”
In an interview with Italian TV, Lavrov was asked to address how Russia could say it needed to “denazify” the country when its president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, is Jewish.
“As to [Zelenskiy’s] argument of what kind of nazification can we have if I’m Jewish, if I remember correctly, and I may be wrong, Hitler also had Jewish blood,” Lavrov said during an interview with Italian television channel Mediaset. “It doesn’t mean anything at all.”
“We have for a long time listened to the wise Jewish people who say that the most rabid antisemites tend to be Jews,” Lavrov continued. “There is no family without a monster.”
The remarks have sparked a diplomatic row with Israelone of the few western countries that has yet to impose sanctions on Russia over its invasion and has not provided military aid to Ukraine.
“Foreign Minister Lavrov’s remarks are both an unforgivable and outrageous statement as well as a terrible historical error,” said Yair Lapid, Israel’s foreign ministry. “Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust. The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of antisemitism.”
Israeli officials have also demanded an apology from Russia for the remarks.
“His words are untrue and their intentions are wrong,” said the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett. “Using the Holocaust of the Jewish people as a political tool must cease immediately.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelenskiy, called Lavrov’s statement “antisemitic” and said that it was “further evidence that Russia is the legal successor of Nazi ideology”.
“Trying to rewrite history, Moscow is simply looking for arguments to justify the mass murders of Ukrainians,” he said.
Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, also condemned Lavrov’s remarks as “absurd, delusional, dangerous and deserving of condemnation”.
The organization in March had also attacked Zelenskiy for comparing Russia’s intentions in Ukraine to the Holocaust.
Lavrov has addressed Zelenskiy’s religion in the past as Moscow has been pressed to explain how it can “denazify” a country with a Jewish leader. In March, shortly after Russia began its war in Ukraine, Lavrov told US broadcaster ABC News: “I think the Nazis and neo-Nazis manipulate [Zelenskiy].”
In his interview this week, Lavrov also said he did not want Ukraine to surrender but simply that it “stop resisting”.
“We don’t demand that [Zelenskiy] surrender,” Lavrov said. “We demand that he give the order to release all civilians and stop resisting. Our goal does not include regime change in Ukraine.”
Italy’s Mediaset TV channel also came under fire for giving space to Lavrov, with Enrico Letta, the leader of the centre-left Democratic party, describing the exclusive interview on the current affairs program Zona bianca as “a propaganda advert”.
Laura Garavani, a senator with the small Italia Via party, said the interview, conducted by Giuseppe Brindisi, “was an offensive spectacle for a democracy like ours. The network acted as a sounding board for Russian propaganda by letting Lavrov speak undisturbed, denying the crimes he is committing without any cross-examination”.
Ruth Dureghello, the president of the Jewish Community of Rome, said Lavrov’s statements were “delusional and dangerous”, and that their most serious aspect was that they were made “on Italian television, without any cross-examination and without the presenter opposing the lies that were uttered”. “This is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to pass by in silence,” she added.